Christopher Nolan took the BFI London Film Festival stage this afternoon to continue his crusade for the preservation of film as digital continues to dominate production, archive and exhibition. But he stayed silent on details of his next movie. That silence has been deafening since Warner Bros announced a release date: July 21, 2017. The studio has world rights on the new one, as it has had with all of Nolan’s recent pictures except for Interstellar, which it shared with Paramount.
During the panel today Interstellar came up quite a bit, and Nolan praised Quentin Tarantino, who plans to install 70mm projectors in some 50 screens in anticipation of the arrival of The Hateful Eight in Demember. Nolan also evangelized the dynamic range, peak whites and sense of time that he claimed only film could deliver.
Joining artist Tacita Dean, who works with film, and Alexander Horwath, the director of the Austrian Film Institute, who has insisted only on showing works in their original form, Nolan expressed frustration with studio executives demanding to know why he prefers to shoot film. “I have conversations where they say, ‘But doesn’t storytelling trump everything?’ Well, no, because otherwise we’d all be doing radio plays,” he said. “The medium is very much a part of the concept.”
He equated the digital revolution with the trend to colorize black-and-white films in the 1980s. “Periods of technological advancement confuse [ideas about medium],” Nolan insisted. “Digital technology has allowed access to the history of cinema, which is phenomenal, but people aren’t aware that any transfer you do is a translation of the original material. There’s always a difference.”
This was a film love-in through and through, with Dean saying, “Never has a medium been under such threat.” The artist later praised the democratization of filmmaking through devices like the iPhone, but warned, “Everyone has a pencil, but not everyone can draw.”
The benefits of digital were discussed only inasmuch as the conveniences didn’t matter. Nolan said he loved the “resistance of the medium” – the challenges and effort it took to deliver good-looking shots. “With Interstellar, the choice of camera angles was predicated on where we could cram the Imax camera,” Nolan noted. “It was shot how you’d have had to shoot it if you were [on the spaceship], so it added credibility.”
Nolan also discussed the myth that digital captured more detail, arguing a photochemical process would always be superior to a resolution-limited image. Asked about High Frame Rate, the tech trialed to little success on The Hobbit, Nolan noted it had first been tried on film. “And we even had a discussion about shooting Inception in 48fps in 70mm. We found that while you’d solve some of the artifacts of motion blur, you also get other artifacts, because you don’t get the same motion blur that your eye sees.” The 24fps, he said simply, was the sweet spot that mimicked the human eye. “Film is all about imagining what the eye could see.”
The director contradicted the received wisdom that he’d insisted on Interstellar’s exclusive 70mm projection window. “It was Paramount’s idea to project Interstellar on 70mm, and a year before that they were the first company to announce they wouldn’t be striking any more film prints. If it can be shown to add value to a release, they’re always prepared to do it.”